Saturday, March 18, 2017

Emerging Author Mistakes - AKA Please Stop. Please.

As an avid reader and a publisher, I have become very aware, in the trends of authors. Now, don't get me wrong, I love authors. I love that they are creative, and passionate, and can bring to life worlds that existed, up until that moment, only in their heads. But, after years now of talking to writers and readers and buyers, formatting books, engaging in endless emails, I have compiled the following list of mistakes that most emerging authors make. If you, as an author, can overcome these mistakes, your writing will be more appealing to publishers and readers alike.

1. Telling not showing
    "Laurie was very upset."
    "Jennie was one of the most popular girls."
    " Neil was very charming."

     There are two reasons this is bad writing. First and foremost, it falls emotionally flat, preventing me from engaging and reducing the power of your writing. Secondly, I don't know that I believe you. Why are you an authority? Why should I care? This is lazy. Instead, show me that Laurie is very upset. Is she screaming? Is she crying? Is her face blotchy? Describe her character's appearance. How do we know that Jennie is popular? What do the people around her do when she enters? How does she carry herself? What is Neil doing to charm us? Is it working? Use actions, reactions, appearance, and reduce statements of adverbs.

2. The redundent people of redundency who say things more than once. 
There are two ways that writers are unintentionally redundant. First, they use the same word repeatedly in the course of a sentence, paragraph, or the entire novel. Please, get a thesaurus. Use it. The writing becomes magical instead of monotonous. Secondly, the writer will try to show the emotion or validity of the point that they are trying to get across by just saying it over and over and over. And over. Repeatedly. I mean they say it more than once. Again. You know what? I still don't believe you because you are providing no evidence to back it up. Refer to the first point; that's your answer.

3. Table of Contents 
If this is not an ebook, this is unnecessary. More than that, it costs your publisher money and makes your reader wait to get to the part that they want to read. .. your story. These things are important to the author, but truly not to anyone else. Similarly, do not tell me what happens in your chapter or give it a name. Unless you are A. A. Milne and these are Winnie the Pooh what you are doing is weakening your writing.

3. Scene Breaks
Scene breaks are necessary; there is no doubt about that. However, if you have more than one scene break in each chapter, possibly two in some specialized cases and chapters, what you need to do is rethink your chapter, not add more asterisks. It's hard to take a step back, but is sometimes necessary. I find that the old-fashioned story arc or outline is helpful in fixing this issue.

4. Ellipses - Ellipses have become a huge part of social media communication; part of the unique grammatical and stylistic language that online communication is developing. That being said, it does not transfer well to professional writing. Please. .. .. . . . ..  . . don't.

5. Letters to Readers - I'm going to say something that is going to be really, really harsh. I'm sorry. It needs to be said. That thing is, no one cares. At least, not yet. We come at this from the perspective of people who are avid readers who have read every interview and letter with and from our favorite authors. We are people who have planned what we would say when this moment came for years. Here it is and. . .no one cares. They will. Someday, if they are very lucky, people will hang on your every word. For now, though, save these for your blog and for interviews. Do not put them in your books, costing yourself profit and delaying the time until your reader can get to the story that will make the fall in love with you. If you must include it, please do not put it at the front of the book. Put it after, so that those who can't get enough of you get a delicious treat. But understand, because this will be important as you begin the work of getting your career off of the ground (work that is just NOW starting), the concept that no one cares yet will be plaguing you for a while yet. But they will. Then, add everything you ever wanted to. You can introduce a character and have him kill off a multiverse-wide Big Bad 70 pages later (erhem Stephen King I'm looking at you). Now, you just have to wait.

You don't like what I've said. I know. You're different. I know. All of your Beta readers have said that your work is amazing just as it is. I know. Who do I think I am?

Ah, well, that's the crux of it. I'm an author who has made the same mistakes I listed above. I am a publisher who has read thousands of author submissions. I am a salesperson who has sold, or tried to sell, to millions (!) of readers. I'm someone who has cried, and raged, and jumped up and down in glee. Most of all, I've learned through some of the most brutal and expedited hands-on experience that I could have imagined. Take the time to get over your ego, and overcome lazy writing, and your success will grow exponentially.

Trust me. I believe in you.

Monday, March 6, 2017


This weekend the second "Fifty Shades. .  ." movie became the highest grossing movie of 2017.

This weekend Facebook blew up with the "controversy" of having a gay character in a movie about an abusive relationship between a young, sheltered woman and a were-buffalo.

This weekend was my one year divorce-aversary.

These things may or may not be related. Probably not.

Still, I feel the need to say this; I don't believe in censorship. I believe that we, as individuals, have the right and responsibility to self-censor. To decide what we want in our lives. However, I believe just as strongly, if not more so, that literature and movies have things to say about society, about ourselves, even if we don't agree with them. Maybe especially. So, while I don't like, don't support, and will never read a piece of poorly-written, sophomoric, Twilight fan-fiction that paints abuse as glamorous and sexy, I will defend the right of the author to write it and the right of people to read it. I will question their taste, but not their right.

But . .

But something else needs to be said. In case someone needs to hear it. That something is this:

Abuse, even if the abuser is richer, smarter, more glamorous, more charming or more anything is not okay.

Abuse, even (especially) if you are dependent on the person for hearth and home, is not okay.

Abuse, even if (s)he is emotionally damaged, is not okay. It is not your job to turn a beast into a prince, and the simple fact is, only a very small proportion are victims of a sorceress' spell.

Abuse even (especially) if YOU are damaged, is not okay. In fact, most abusers pick partners with self-esteem issues, mental health issues, or who have already been traumatized.

Emotional abuse is still abuse.

Sexual acts of any sort without consent, EVEN IF YOU HAVE GIVEN CONSENT BEFORE, is abuse.

Being forced or manipulated into a type of relationship you do not want, is abuse.

If you are being abused, IT IS OKAY to demand that it stops.

If you are being abused YOU DO NOT HAVE TO STAY. There are resources out there. There are people who love you and will help you. Yes there are. No matter what you've done. Feeling isolated is part of abuse.

Abuse is not glamorous Abuse is not love. Abuse is not romantic

That is all.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

How Did It Go?

I got hit with a case of the dry heaves when I walked into the exhibition hall. There I stood, in my slept in clothes, getting out of my slept in vehicle, with a display made up of bricks and lumber and fabric, walking through the likes of Penguin Random House, Disney Books, Scholastic to set up my wares. I felt, for only the second time since I started doing this and definitely the most extreme, like an imposter. I mean, listen, I know there are small presses here locally whose owners don’t like me. Still, I don’t have a problem walking into a room where they are and setting up shop, because I know that I deserve to be there, every bit as much as most and more than some. I know there are authors who don’t much care for my hawking, but I don’t feel out of place. Here, I waited for sirens and lights to go off, for someone to catch on to the fact that I obviously, patently didn’t belong. I Messaged librarian friends, looking for reassurance. I put some vague panicked messages on Facebook. Then, I set up my booth and we did what we do. Since then, people have been asking me how it went, and the honest answer is, “I don’t know.”

I don’t know because this weekend wasn’t about ready sales. Sales on the spot. Foolishly, I had thought it would be. One man laughed. “Did you think they were going to buy for their libraries on the spot?” Uh, yeah, actually I did. In fact, in the world in which I’ve cut my teeth, we have a term for those who say they will buy later. We call them bebacks and they are generally dealt with with a roll of the eyes or worse. In this environment, though, I had an intelligent, charming man next to me who was giving books away for FREE who got shot down because the participants didn’t want to have to carry the book. (This man was Chris Beakey, by the way. Awesome man. Excellent writer.You can find him here.)  So, I’m watching sales slowly trickle in. Not huge, but they are happening.

I don’t know because I have some prospects on the line that could change our publishing house in huge ways. But I don’t know if they will turn into anything or not. I came home from Printer’s Row Literary Festival convinced that I had made the kind of connections that would change our world, and they were nothing. Yet, I have people reaching out to me. People saying that we were the highlight of the event for them. Did you get that? A veritable smorgasboard of free books, authors doing signings, Neal Freaking Patrick Harris, John Lewis, and I was the highlight? I. .. don’t really know how to deal with that. Especially when, as I said, I felt like such an imposter. I can’t talk more about them now, not until they are done deals, but there’s some potentially exciting things happening.
I don’t know because while I thought I was an imposter, other people were amazed by our story. By the tenacity and grit that we’ve shown. Not everyone. We had eyes rolled at us more than once by academics who informed us that speculative fiction isn't "real" fiction. I had one woman told us our books are ordinary. Still, I made some friends, business aside, that I truly hope to keep in touch with. More than that, I was told over and over again what an inspiration we were. Which was really different from the “I” word that I had in mind.

It was not ready money. Financially, at least for the short term, it was a bit of a bust. It was emotionally and physically exhausting. But by the end of the weekend I could breathe because we did it. .And we did it well. So, how did it go? I don’t know, but I think it went all right. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What do You Say to Your Children?

I watched, last night, as something truly frightening happened. I also watched as my news feed was flooded with people saying "what do I say to my children?" I've been thinking about that a lot. I'm not a political expert; I'm not an expert of parenting, but years of dealing with a hurtful, sexist, homophobic, selfish dictator of my own taught me some things. Raising a child who was rented out for medical students to practice on taught me some things. Helping my tender-hearted son and my autistic son navigate the world has taught me some things. I'm going to share those now. I hope they help.

First of all, if you told them that Hillary was definitley going to win, or even probably going to win, if  you made plans with them based on what you would do when Hillary won, your first step is to apologize to them. You had no way of backing up that promise or assurance, other than speculation from an admittedly slanted media. So if they are let down because this was in any chance broadcasted to them as a certainty, you are on the hook for that. So you apologize for making a promise you had no power to keep, you take responsibility for your part in their disappointment, and you try not to do that again.

Secondly, if  you are a person of faith, any faith, you lean on that. I don't care what faith it is. I'm pretty sure there is something in your texts or beliefs about balance, about caring for others, about finding peace. Find those things. Try to do them. Try to believe them. It's hard sometimes. But it helps.

Next, you remind them that you will protect them. That you will physically stand in the gap when you are able, That when you are not able to be there physically, you will make sure that there are support personnel there, a team, to keep them safe. Educate them on steps to take if they feel frightened or unsafe (as an aside, the need to do this is not new to this election; I've been doing it for years). Then give them the mental, emotional, and physical tools they need to protect themselves. Build an amazing foundation, take self-defense classes, spend time together talking, create family rules regarding respect. When my daughter had grown men making fun of her because of her disability, I taught her how to pretend to fall and use her canes to smack them between the legs. When we had racial slurs graffitoed on our playhouse, I painted over them and talked to my kids about why people would feel like they needed to do that. When it still wasn't safe, we moved. My son is having issues now that he is discovering, for the first time, that autism is considered by many to be a bad thing. We are working with a therapist, a counselor, a psychiatrist, and two teachers to solve this problem. That's what you do. You protect them.

Then, you remind them that we are all, individually, responsible for taking care of each other. So, if you're scared for your Muslim friends, join an interfaith community, keep tabs on events, and participate. Ask your LGBT friends how to be an ally. Feed the homeless. Stand at Standing Rock. Volunteer at a Domestic Violence shelter. Do your part to make sure the children you raise know to love and respect all people, to stand up for the least among us. Do it by showing them, by telling them, by living it not just with words in your family but in how you act.

Finally, you educate yourself on how this happened. I see so many people shaking their heads today and asking "how."  I remember doing that at the end of my first marriage. Wondering how I got there. So I did research. Really researched signs of emotional and mental abuse, how it started, how it advanced, how it affected people. I mean, the situation was textbook once I did my research, and this one is as well. Research how people act when they feel unheard and the pendulum effect. Research ogliarchy. Research what happens when the establishment has predetermined candidates. Research three party systems. Research voter turnout. Know what happened so in four years you can do your part to make sure it doesn't again. Because when you know those things, this really isn't that much of a surprise. Disheartening, sure, but not a surprise. Situations like this are all over history.

So, what do we do? We hold each other close.  We apologize, pray, protect, act, and educate. And know that this too, shall pass. It may pass like a gallstone, but it will pass. I've seen gloom and doom predicted from George Sr. to now and while bad things have happened, we are still standing. We will continue to stand. Let's stand together.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Inspiration Vs. Replication

It's NaNoWriMo, and that means that authors everywhere are flocking to their computers to. .. write blogs, to "research," to engage in social marketing. In other words, we are flocking to our computers to do anything other than write our wretched, soul-sucking novels. The novels that we would be overjoyed to write any other time but suddenly feel the weight, the pressure, of a deadline.

I am no exception.

But I figure in my attempt to escape my lagging word count, I can talk about some things that we, as writers, face.

When you're a writer, some people assume that everything in your books is about them. I've had more than one family member get angry with me about things that I have written. Sometimes they had been the inspiration. More often not. I realized long ago that I wouldn't convince them either way, so I smile in a way that is meant to be enigmatic but most likely just looks gassy. Ah well, you can't have everything. My point is, that while we aren't necessarily just waiting to paint you as a caricature in our next novel, we are always listening. We are making mental and sometimes physical notes. We are gaining inspiration however and whenever we can

And usually that's what it is. It is inspiration. We use it to further the plot, to add nuance to a character. We use it to create the feel that we want, to make YOU feel what we want you to. Sometimes, though, far more rarely, inspiration becomes replication. We forget, somehow, that what we are writing is fiction. We get too close. We are working through something or we really want you to feel how we felt in that moment.

I have been struggling with that, lately. I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, writing the second book in my series, when another story started tugging like a fishhook in my brain. This story is that of the one and only lost girl to be in Neverland. This story incorporates Pan as he actually was. Sure, he was fun-loving. He was also manipulative, arrogant, and a murderer. Yes, you read that right. If the lost boys displeased him, he was not above "thinning them out." So, anyhow this lost girl somehow finds herself as the caretaker of a bunch of Pan's castaways. While Pan doesn't want the responsibility of taking care of these boys, he doesn't like that she is doing it and therein the conflict lies. It took me a solid month of writing this book to realize why it was bothering me, why it had to be written. Once I saw it (and recovered from the "duh" moment of why I didn't see this from the beginning) I knew why it was with me. From that moment, though, my inspiration keeps trying to edge over into replication. Every time that happens, I start to get lost, bogged down. That character, he needs to do a certain thing to advance the plot but he can't because my son wouldn't do that. That character must be defeated, but the scene is taking me a weeks to write because I keep getting really anxious whenever I write it. I can't hurt that character because he is based on my other son.

I know I'm not the only one who does this. I know of a writer who had based the main love interest in one of her novels on her boyfriend. When the relationship ended, she couldn't bring herself to finish the book for over a year. Another author started a book based on her five children. Then she had two more. She didn't know what to do, because adding more kids made the story unwieldy but she didn't want the younger two to feel left out.

I don't have an answer to this. I just know that we cannot fall into this trap. Our writing suffers, first and foremost because we get bogged down and it slows our writing. Our writing also suffers because we are too busy staying true to reality to stay true to the story. It makes for a worse story that takes too long to come out. But once it is in our mind, compartmentalizing becomes more difficult. So, tell me, what tricks do you use to separate the two?

And now, I feel like I've procrastinated long enough. I have three kids stuck on the top of a cliff. I'll look forward to reading your comments below.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Back up the Rabbit Hole

Life is sometimes about hard decisions. Sometimes you have so many things that you love that you can't do them all. That's not a bad problem to have. I mean, I'd rather have to deal with that then find myself falling into ennui or apathy. Still, lately I tried to take on too much and didn't know it until it was too late. I fell. Flat on my face. So then I had to reevaluate. Let me tell you about the rabbit hole I found myself in, and what I'm going to do about it.

I wrote a book. Well, I wrote two. They were both published by publishers who did not comport themselves in the best of manners. So, when the second one went south, I decided that I may not be the best publisher. I didn't, at the time, know much about the process, but I knew that I would never give up on the people who had trusted me. I would never quit. Also, I realized that I was the only one who would work as hard for me as was desired. So, to become a better author, I became a publisher.

And I loved it. I do love it still. There's nothing like helping get good books seen, helping make dreams come through. Well, then we grew. And we grew. It became clear that I couldn't grow more without dedicating more time to it, and I didn't have enough time to give. At the same time, my then-husband said that he didn't know how I could expect him to dedicate time to our marriage with him working full time. My sadness with our marriage made me short with the kids.  So, to become a better publisher and a better wife, and a better mother I became a Rennie.

And I loved it. I loved it so much. I loved the people. I loved the travel. I loved the pride and the community and the long days in the sun. The books were doing well. However, between royalties and restocking we were making quite a bit but not quite enough. So, I came up with the idea of the absinthe business. I came up with the recipes and found the sources and made up some business cards and I became an absinthery to be a better Rennie.

Then my marriage imploded. So, I had to get a real-live house and put the kids in public school. My daughter's health got significantly worse. I fell in love. I tried running the absinthe business remotely.I tried working faire and then going back and trying to keep up my house. I found that I wasn't doing any of it well. It was too much. I was letting people down. I felt stretched thin, with one foot in too many worlds.  In other words, being an absinthery was taking away from being a mom, and a wife, and a publisher. Weird how that worked. I love being a publisher. I love being a mom. I really hope that I'm a good wife. I loved being a Rennie, but it doesn't fit right now, and of the things I love, I loved that the least. Given the choice between pride and travel and doing what's best for my kids, well that isn't a choice at all. And the absinthe. I never liked that. I liked the money. I liked that I had done something to support my family. But teh business itself. Meh. So, I've found a new direction. I've rededicated myself to the things I love the most. I'm not sure how it will work, but I feel better having made the decision at last.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Defying Gravity

It's been a hell of a year, and it doesn't show any signs of letting up anytime soon. Some things are good, and some things are bad, and some are incredible. Either way I'm going somewhere new, and exciting, and a little bit scary. So, I'm discovering some things about myself, about what I think and feel and like, about what I can achieve and what I cannot, and about what I really want. I'm going to share some of those things. Not because I'm looking for either pity or accolades, and not because I'm looking to villianize anyone. I'm going to share because I feel like there are thoughts and experiences that people need to hear, because these things affect me as a writer, and because I need to get this out. Is that okay? Are you ready? Will you come with me? Here goes.

I watched Glee yesterday. I'm watching it now, in fact. This is a big deal for me. Not because I'm overly attached to television shows. Except for one. And really, how often can you watch 14 episodes? But, you see, I've only watched one and a half episodes before this. Which is odd, when you think about it. I mean, pithy lines, ensemble cast, great music, and the art nerds. If ever there a show that seemed me, this was it. But, you see, it wasn't allowed. I couldn't watch Glee because, as I was told, it was contributing to the Overton window effect on our society and the kids would see it and what message was that sending them and so on and so forth. I didn't agree. I don't now. Not about Glee and not about the deeper issues behind it. I was allowed to not agree and to have my own opinions, but only if I followed the rules, you see. But I love Glee.I love musicals.  I love being an ally.

It goes deeper than a TV show, though, as fabulous as this show is. A couple of months ago, I got to baptize two of my kids. They asked me to, and I don't know if I've had many prouder moments than that. I was terrified, though, and sought a lot of guidance. You see, I wasn't allowed to baptize my kids because I was a woman and that wasn't a woman's role. That's what I'd been told, anyway. But I did, because I could, and a whole slew of fellow Christians cheered and shouted. Mostly for my children and what their commitment meant, of course, but I like to think that a little bit had to do with being happy for and proud of me.

Also, extracurriculars. I get to take my kids to those. That wasn't ever forbidden, not that one. It was just that I would sign them up and get them to practice and then . . priorities would change  Because, you see, sports were a waste of time. They didn't benefit anything and it lead to adults who were "stuck in their high school glory days." So we'd miss practice and then I'd get all anxious because I know it is important to be consistent and I felt bad and well, Duncan would see that he didn't HAVE to go and it would be a fight and, well, we'd end up fading out. But you know what I think? I think group activities are important. I think they teach kids how to work within a community and how to follow rules. I think they teach kids how to be consistent and dedicated, and follow through even when they don't want to.

I wrote this morning. Not one of my big project. Just something that got stuck in my head that I wanted to play around with. Now listen, there was support for my writing. I'm not saying there wasn't. But I was once told that I looked "vaguely retarded" when I was writing in my head. Another time I was told that artists were expendable. That it wasn't understood why actors and such got paid so much, because what they contributed was completely unnecessary to society. So, every time I wrote I felt self-conscious, and guilty. Like there were better things that I should be doing. But I wrote today.

When the divorce was filed, and especially when it was final, people told me I was free. But, I never felt free. I had to go off the road, and felt really bogged down by the minutiae of having a house with all of the obligations and time that goes with it. I had to enroll the kids in school, and that left me feeling even more trapped. No more random trips, being told when I could and could not pick them up and so on. Anyhow, I didn't feel free. Then, I realized the other day, all the ways that I am. It's not about where I can go. It's not about what I can do. It's about who I can be. I can be me. I can think what I want and I can say what I think and I can tell people how I feel. I can have my passions and not have them belittled. That, my friends, is freedom. That is flying. That is defying gravity.

Friends, don't let anyone clip your wings. Listen, people make comments sometimes that hurt. Even when they love you. Especially when they love you, because truly if you don't care about the person what they say doesn't that have much of an impact, right? It's important, once apologies are made, to move on. And in any relationship, rules and standards are important. But, if someone is making you feel badly about being you, if you find yourself not being allowed, or being scuttled in your attempts to do things that you think are important, that's not okay. That's not love. And you deserve more. Me, I'm going to try flying. After this episode. It's the one where they do ballads.